Pork Butchery: The School of Artisan Food
Vegans, vegetarians and people who eat meat but don’t understand where your food comes from, you aren’t going to like this post or the pictures in it. So don’t read it and no-one gets upset. I’ve even put a picture of flowers as the first image in the post so you don’t accidentally see dead pig pictures.
I was extremely pleased to be invited to the School of Artisan Food to road test one of their day workshops recently. I have been watching the reputation of this phenomenal facility grow and grow in recent years and have always had my eye on visiting, but never quite got round to it, so this was an absolutely unmissable opportunity for me.
|A peaceful welcome in the onsite refectory|
The school is out in Welbeck, which means that absolutely the only criticism I can level at them is that it can be difficult to reach them if you don’t drive, like me. This meant an early start for me, leaving just after 6am to get the first bus into town, to get a train, to get a taxi to get to the school in time for 9.30am. But a lot of people drive, so I guess that’s my own tough luck really.
|The School is located in rather splendid surroundings on the Welbeck Estate|
There was a glittering array of courses for me to choose from. I’ll confess that it took me ages to pick and I had to ask the helpful team at the school for help because I basically wanted to do everything! There really is everything you can imagine on offer as a short course and many items for more formal, longer training. Baking, chocolate making, brewing, curing, butchery, cheese-making, foraging, preserving… I knew that I wanted to learn a new skill that I hadn’t tried before and in the end settled on the Pork Butchery: Nose to Tail day course.
|Quick anatomy lesson – identifying the cheek 👌😂|
You are in (quite literally) safe hands on this course with tutors Chris and Rich having decades of experience in the meat industry under their belts in a variety of roles, and both have a very visible passion for British artisan butchery. Just having the opportunity to spend a day in their company is a privilege. We were given a fascinating introduction into the British pork industry, the rearing and slaughter of pigs and useful details about the transition of those animals into the food chain.
Then it was time to get practical, and we worked in pairs at our butchers blocks with a side of pig a pair. The nose to tail element comes into effect straight away, with the head and tail being the first elements to be removed – with attendant discussion of the uses for pig’s cheeks and the now rare dish of brawn, which is made from the head of the pig. It’s also known as Head Cheese. Which sounds pretty horrible if I’m honest, so let’s stick to calling it brawn.
|I’ll be honest, I was already pretty proud of myself when we got to this point!|
We were given detailed instruction on knife techniques and good practice throughout the day, and soon everyone in the small group was (relatively) confidently using their boning knife, steak knife and bone saw to take the side down into the primary cuts.
After the primary cuts had been obtained, with careful consideration of how the pig was divided up to maximise the useful cuts and minimise the additional trim generated (which will still be used… keep reading) we started on looking at secondary joints and how to use them in the kitchen. This is where your more familiar butcher’s cuts began to appear from the huge half a pig. The chops, tenderloin, pork belly and much more were discussed, as well as the different ways you can theoretically prepare each primary cut for different final outcomes.
|Scared? I don’t really blame you.|
This was all pretty hungry work, and as I’m sure you can imagine, lunch at the School of Artisan Food does not disappoint! Food prepared by the students is on offer and we were treated to roast pork (very appropriate) with excellent locally sourced vegetables, as well as fresh bread, butter and cheese being on offer and a delicious selection of homemade cakes, pastries and macarons.
Back in the training room after lunch, we finished off cutting our pork chops, learning to tie our roasting joints and stripping the ribs from our pork belly. Then we packed as much as we could carry to take home. I know have half a freezer dedicated to pork I butchered myself – ✋✋✋
When this process was complete, it was time to turn our attention to the trim. This is all the perfectly good bits of meat and fat that you obtain when cleaning up your joints. We stuck it in the mincer, added salt and mixed, then added fat and pepper and mixed again (a lovely hands-on process). And yes, it was sausage making time. Which literally reduces a group of seemingly grown-up individuals into gibbering wrecks of spluttered innuendo. Not least me. Chris and Rich were very patient, even though I’m sure they’ve heard it all before a million times.
We all took turns in using the sausage maker to fill the casings and then were taught the bewildering art of creating links. Naturally with so much amazing fresh meat in the house, the very next day I had some friends round for a BBQ and I can confirm that the sausages were amazing.
So my heartfelt thanks to the School for inviting me to enjoy such an educational and entertaining day! I learned an incredible amount and now want to become a butcher or learn to cure meat, or do the venison course… Basically I’m giddy with excitement about the whole thing and am looking out a way to practice my new-found skills. I really cannot recommend the School of Artisan Food highly enough, either for the quality of the courses they offer, or for the role they are playing in promoting food culture in this country. Wonderful.